Ah, the pleasures of Egypt's public transport system... Throw in some police-driven paranoia and a hate for selfies, and Timmy Mowafi has himself quite the experience...
Illustration by Bouklao
I'm sprinting at full speed, barging through a crowd of exhausted travelers at the decimated entrance of Alexandria's main train station. In my hand is my producers iPhone, camera on as I frantically try to catch behind the scenes of the last leg of a commercial project our MO4 team had been filming across Egypt.
We had previously shot by the Pyramids, in the airport, on Stanley Bridge, in a Khaliji bar, all without a permit and pure tazbeet, a miracle in Egypt's current hyper paranoid and policed environment. We were now home free, one train back home to Cairo and the project would have went through without hiccup.
As our bags went through the scanners I was mid-selfie with our cameraman and luggage as the producer sprints to catch the train which he insisted left at 7PM, but then again, also insisted we can't leave Alexandria without devouring three kilos of shrimp 20 minutes before departure.
Suddenly a firm, sweaty hand grasps my recording arm, then another squalid paw grabs my other arm, until there's enough arms on me to pose as Ganesha, the Indian God revered as the remover of obstacles.
"Give me that phone. What are you doing?"
The gyrating police officer is furious and I'm confused. He's prying the mobile, which isn't mine, out of my hands and more of Ganesha's arms are dragging me from public view into a dingy room parallel to us.
Now I've seen plenty of memes online about how selfies should be banned but I never thought it would be one of Sisi's biggest priorities.
Producer is long gone having not witnessed my kidnapping whilst cameraman is stuck between a rock and a hard place; 2atr and 2ascari. I see him double take several times as I'm dragged into my foreboding situation - does he save the tasree7-free footage taken from the day and leg it to the train or does he come and try to rescue me? He bravely chose the latter.
Now there are 10 officers peering over us like judgement day and all I can think is, we're going to miss our train.
Now after some research, here are a couple of theoretical rights I have as a citizen when harassed by Egyptian police according to reputable lawyers and the book 3ashan Matenderebsh 3ala Afak by former cop Omar Afifi.
The Right to Remain silent.
"Why are you here?" a very ex-essential question from the grubby officer which I was not willing to tackle at this distressing moment in my life but I managed to stutter out "2atr" (train) in purposely terrible Arabic, whilst waving around my British passport like a surrender flag. This was taken as complete impertinence that lead to a series of questions forcibly pelted at cameraman and I, that included but were not limited to:
"Why are you filming?"
"Where are you from?"
"Where do you work? Where do you live? What do you do? Where do you travel?"
"What are your hopes? Your dreams? Do you believe in love after love?"
"You've been drinking beer?" (a rhetorical question I assumed to which my answer was yes, followed by more waving of the passport)
"No, whiskey, you drink whiskey?"
"Whiskey right, this guy has drunk whiskey!"
"Mish beera... whiskey".
The interrogation was intense and more importantly time wasting as we had a train to catch. I felt it somewhere between a French A level oral exam and a GQ in-depth feature piece about my drinking habits in a swanky London bar. My answer to most of the above questions was "2atr".
No one has the right to search you, or your car, or look at your phone without a permit.
The first thing they did was rip the iPhone from my hands and confiscate the others on us. Whilst some of them ravaged through our bags like hungry hash-starved hyenas a plain clothes officer salivated through more selfies on the phones. We're in trouble I thought. Aside from the (illegal?) selfies, producer had more than a few incriminating items in his gallery, a few swipes more and the officer would have opened Pandora's box of debauched after-hours photography. The phone rings. Officer lets me answer. It's producer from a stranger's phone.
"Where are you, man?"
"Doing an oral exam, will be a sec."
*Put hand over earpiece and turn to officer*
A cop must prove he is a cop before he approaches you
I assumed the fake Ralph Lauren logos on their polo shirts were the new official emblem of the Alexandrian Police Enforcement Against Selfies.
An hour longer of angry looks and futile questioning we were gracefully allowed to take our belongings back from our new masters. We were escorted by another police officer back to the platform to get us on a train out of there.
He takes our tickets. He begins laughing manically whilst glaring at us like imbeciles, his black rotten teeth in full view.
"You're train ticket says 10PM."
Defeated and embarrassed, we hustle our way on to the earliest train out as it begins to leave the station. The train master calls out its destination - "Dammanhour."
Without tickets, we squeeze ourselves in between 10 fala7een on the in-between-cabin floor. I pray to Genesha that the ride will be over soon.